Sunday, July 23, 2017

17 Cents Per Gallon

Shared events are recorded differently in individual memories. No one in my family recalls my mother sending her two sons, ages 7 and 6, solo on a train from Portland, Maine to Boston. Collective amnesia has erased the recollection of our family watching brown bears dine on garbage at the town dump. I am our final retainer of lost episodes in time and the rest of the clan shake their head disapproving of my version of history. They may be right, but I can clearly recall the Biddeford, Maine gas war of 1958.

Two gas stations were located at the foot of the Biddeford-Saco bridge on Route 1.

During the summer months the road was heavily trafficked by vacationers to the Pine Tree State and the two station owners offered prices below the cost of the gas, hoping to bankrupt his rival. My father and many other drivers were aware of this competition and no one leaving Portland bought gas until crossing the Saco River.

Both stations were manned by slick hot-rodders. Window were wiped by cheerleaders. A free glass accompanied each fill-up.

The price dropped from 25 cents per gallon to 21 to 18 and finally 17 cents per gallon. My father detoured south from a day at Old Orchard Beach to top off the tank. The greasy-haired attendants were haggard from the onslaught of 'fill it up'. The cheerleaders' outfits were torn to rags by the sharp edges of cars. Once the tank was filled, our Ford station wagon left the pump headed north to Falmouth Foresides.

The two stations' gas war of annihilation threatened the entire gasoline structure of New England. Their respective suppliers ordered the rival station owners to agree to a truce. A price was agreed upon by all concerned parties and I've never seen 17 per gallon again in my life.

I've told this story several times at BBQs on Watchic Pond. My brother-in-law wanted to believe me, but 17 cents was beyond his comprehension. My uncle, a long-time Maine native, guffawed at the idea of 17 cents gas in 1958, but retracted his comment, saying, "When I was issued my license in 1939, gas was 10 cents a gallon."

"I was only $1.11 in 1994." My brother-in-law had a good head for numbers. He had been an accountant for the manufacturers of Topsiders before becoming a corporate head-hunter.

"And it's only 6 cents in Venezuela." The leader of that country was keeping it low for the people.

"6 cents a gallon." My brother-in-law shook his head. "Now that's cheap."

And all thanks to the triumph of socialism over capitalism.

The the victors go the spoils.

ps Gas under Trump has dropped to $2.33 on the national average, but I've seen it $2.79 on the highway to Greenwich and $2.79 isn't $2.33 or 17 cents.

Not by a long shot..

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